Review: "Living On One Dollar"

We all love Netflix. Perhaps--admittedly--we all love Netflix a bit too much. But aside from being a giant time-suck to our productivity, let’s play devil’s advocate on this one. The online movie and tv show portal boasts a tremendous amount of documentaries and independent films that can be used as tools to educate ourselves about the world around us. If there is something you’re curious about, Netflix probably has a show or movie to match that interest, and then another recommended one that speaks to another interest we didn’t even realize we had, until now.

Over the course of this blog I’m sure Katie and I will do many a review on educational documentaries that speak to our engagement and interests in the world (see list below of some we’ve been itching to watch) but for now we’re here to talk about one in particular, especially as it relates to our upcoming travels to Guatemala.

Living on One Dollar is a beautiful documentary and narrative that follows the journey of four male friends who travel to rural Guatemala, subsisting on $1 a day for a duration of 56 days. In the rural areas near Peña Blanca where they stay, seven out of every ten people lives below the poverty line, existing on less than $1 per day. 

Rather than allocating a dollar per day, each day, for the length of their stay, they divide the total income ($56) into random disbursements, simulating the inconsistent income that is common for someone in the rural highlands to experience. Some days they’re left with $9 for the day, while for one indefinite stretch they go on $0/day. They take out a loan of $125 in the beginning of their journey which is used to plant a radish farm that they hope will prosper and contribute to added food and income later down the line.

One initiative that stuck out to me was a savings enterprise that many community members participated in. Savings from all members were pooled together and then allocated randomly to one member once a month, eventually with all members receiving--at some point--a large lump sum of money that they could then invest or use for medical care, education, or agricultural initiatives. This idea engaged my interest, as it’s not easy to give money to another on the basis of trust. These community members, however, did just that, allocating their personal resources to another so that together their community could grow and flourish. It is an interesting and grassroots-oriented twist on the microloan programs that are often provided by outside organizations.

Toward the end of the documentary, one of the men made another point that peaked my interest. International development, as a whole, pours millions of dollars into top-down solutions that may or may not work, often without input from local people or the people whom the solutions will affect. These men emphasize the power of partial solutions--celebrated and implemented at the vantage point of the one in need. At this level, and from this bottom-up perspective, people can affect others at a deep and personal level. While this idea may not be radical or revolutionary, it can drive incremental and consistent change that is often more beneficial to impoverished communities than grandiose plans implemented from a top-down approach.  

Despite the content, the film is a joy to watch. It takes issues of despair and turns them into momentous occasions of hope and insight. What is important to reflect on, however, is that it is hard for anyone, even these guys, to truly understand poverty. Although their efforts are unique and admirable--and they sacrificed a lot to try to put themselves in the shoes of the poor--people who have grown up in privilege (including ourselves) will never be able to fully understand what a person in rural Guatemala will face each and every day, and especially over the course of a lifetime. Without making the effort to understand and find ways to combat the economic and social injustice so rampant throughout our world, however, nothing will ever change, and for that we applaud the Living On One team. They have inspired us to carefully curate our upcoming trip to live at a very minimal and simple level, staying in shared homes, hostels, and small eco lodges, eating traditional local foods, and participating in experiences that speak to custom and tradition.

We hope you take the time to watch this documentary, or find another that speaks to interests of your own. Empathy requires exposure, and in order to make an impact on this world, we must first educate ourselves on pertinent issues. A documentary is a great place to start, and while it wasn’t the initial spark that drove my inclination to visit Guatemala, it has engaged me further in issues there relating to poverty, development, and microfinance. It has left me with questions that I want answered and ideas that I hope to investigate.

(To participate in our campaign and research initiatives for our upcoming trip, click here.)

So, next time you emerge from a weekend-long Netflix binge, you may just have some questions and ideas in your gut that will inspire you to talk about and work for positive local and global change.

For more information about Living On One Dollar, and these men’s other ventures, visit We can’t wait to watch their new film, Salam (Hello) Neighbor, and share in their experience as they live in solidarity at a Syrian refugee camp.

What’s Next on our Netflix Queue:
  1. The True Cost
  2. Blood Brother
  3. Virunga
  4. Little White Lie
  5. Cowspiracy
  6. 180° South

Remember to keep sharing the beautiful.



PS: My absolute favorite documentary now out on Netflix is Girl Rising. Please watch if you haven’t--I guarantee it will make you cry, smile, laugh and hope--all simultaneously.